Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon many of us experience. People who struggle with impostor syndrome believe that they’re not good enough, despite evidence of the contrary. Many of us struggle with this and think we’re the only ones living with impostor syndrome. Because we don’t want to tell people we’re struggling, we’re not able to reach out for help. But even the best of actors can’t hide everything. There are several signs that you or someone you know is experiencing impostor syndrome.
1. You doubt yourself and your abilities.
One of the hallmarks of impostor syndrome is a feeling of inferiority. You don’t think you’re good at many things, if any thing, whether this is in your professional, personal, or private life. You weren’t the person who raised their hand in class to answer a question or try something new because you feared failure. This thinking makes you risk-averse: You think if you try something new or challenging, you’ll automatically fail at it.
2. You compare yourself to others.
When you have impostor syndrome, you measure your accomplishments and abilities against others, often believing that everyone around you is doing a better job than you are. You see someone else who seems to have accomplished a lot more than you have, which makes you feel bad about yourself. You start to believe that you’re “lazy,” that you’re not pulling your weight, and that everyone around you is picking up on your slack. You might even believe that everyone “knows” that you’re slacking and secretly resent you for it. This makes interactions with others distorted; if you believe people hate you and have a reason to hate you, then you see every little thing they do as proof of that.
3. You pressure yourself.
Every time you do something “wrong” or not the way you want to do it, you put more pressure on yourself to do better. You self-criticize, pointing out all the things that went wrong and why you should have “known” or “done” better than you did. These expectations don’t fall on anyone else who makes mistakes, but they fall on to you. You live in a mindset where you believe the rules and expectations you put on yourself only apply to you because you’re the only person who’s not “good enough.” The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you’ll feel when you can’t reach the high expectations that you put on yourself. But you keep doing it anyway, and it becomes a never-ending cycle of resentment toward yourself.
4. You downplay your accomplishments.
Whenever someone compliments you on your work or something else you’ve done, you deflect comments. You excuse your hard work as “good luck” or something that only happened once and will not happen again. You think your accomplishments are outside of your control and have nothing to do with the hard work you put in. You see yourself as humble, but you also sincerely believe that your skills and natural talents do not bring you the successes you have; all your successes are simply the works of outside forces.
5. You worry that you’ll be “exposed” as a fraud.
When you have impostor syndrome, you think you have no control over any of your successes in life—but everyone else around you does. Because of this, you also think that all of your accomplishments are facades, and that you’re tricking people into believing that you are capable of what you’ve done. This makes you feel even worse than you already do. You think you’re a bad person for “fooling” people but don’t want to stop because you can’t stand the idea of “exposing” yourself as a fraud. So you close yourself off from people, afraid that if you get too close, they’ll find out the truth that you believe about yourself and hate you for it. You’re reserved in your interactions to avoid someone finding out the “truth,” but there’s a part of you that’s afraid someone will eventually find out, anyway. This contributes to a lot of the self-hating and negativity that comes with impostor syndrome.
So often we think we’re alone in our struggles, and people who struggle with impostor syndrome feel no different. We don’t think anyone else can understand our feelings of inferiority, but that’s not true. Everyone feels insecurity. It doesn’t matter how often or when they feel it; it’s something that every person has felt in their life. Chances are high that you’ll run into someone else with impostor syndrome, or at the very least, someone who thinks similarly to those with impostor syndrome.
Sometimes, knowing that someone else is struggling, too, is the first step in realizing the faulty thinking that comes with impostor syndrome. It can help you see through the veil that it’s created. Once you come to this realization, you can start to question the false beliefs that impostor syndrome told you. You can finally see yourself as you truly are: a human being who is imperfect and capable of doing great things, just like anyone else in this life.